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The 11 Best Illustrated Children’s and Picture Books of 2011

From evil stepmothers to Edward Gorey, or what Richard Dawkins has to do with Hindu deities.

It’s that time of year, the time I turn around and start sifting through the year behind with my best-of fine tooth comb in an exercise of meta-meta-curation. Having a well-documented soft spot for children’s books, I’ve decided to begin with my favorite 2011 treats for young readers, ranging from the classic to the quirky to the impossibly charming. Enjoy — you might find it hard not to feel like you want to be a kid again.

THE FAIRY TALES OF THE BROTHERS GRIMM

The fairy tales of the Brothers Grimm, part of UNESCO’s Memory of the World Register for the preservation of cultural documents, have been delighting and terrifying children since 1812, transfixing generations of parents, psychologists, and academics. The Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm is an astounding new volume from Taschen editor Noel Daniel bringing together the best illustrations from 130 years of The Brothers Grimm with 27 of the most beloved Grimm stories, including Cinderella, Snow White, The Little Red Riding Hood, and Sleeping Beauty, amidst artwork by some of the most celebrated illustrators from Germany, Britain, Sweden, Austria, the Czech Republic, Switzerland, and the United States working between the 1820s and 1950s.

The new translation is based on the final 1857 edition of the tales, and stunning silhouettes from original publications from the 1870s and 1920s grace the tome’s pages, alongside brand new silhouettes created bespoke for this remarkable new volume.

An introduction by Daniel explores the Grimms’ enduring legacy, from the DNA of fairy-tale scholarship to the shadow play and shape-shifting at the heart of the stories, and a preface to each tale frames it in its historical and sociocultural context.

The Grimms’ were a vital engine for a whole new caliber of artistic activity […] Suddenly, artists across the Western world could make a living illustrating books, and they found a solid foundation for new work in the heroes and princesses, talking animals, dwarfs, and witches of fairy tales. The tales were an important part of each technological advancement along the way, and the best of this visual iconography still influences artist, art directors, filmmakers, and animators today […] Even as our modes of reading continue to change with new technologies, taking a measure of the interactivity of text and image in past treasures helps us understand the changing landscape of reading in the future.”

And in case you were wondering why Taschen, purveyors of high-end and often risque art and design books, are doing a children’s book, they’ve got a thoughtful answer:

Taschen recently celebrated its 30th anniversary. We have many readers who have come of age with us and are now have their own families. These readers are interested in beautifully produced children’s books that take seriously a child’s exposure to stories and images with depth and historical meaning. We wanted The Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm to embody our mission to create meaningful books that are timeless yet original, modern but classic.”

Full review, with more images, here.

I LIKE CATS

Earlier this year, we featured The Night Life of Trees — an incredible handmade book based on Indian mythology, crafted by a commune of artists, designers and writers in South Indian independent publisher Tara Books’ fair-trade workshop in Chennai. Among Tara’s many other treats is the exceptional I Like Cats — part lovely children’s picture book, part priceless showcase of work by some of the best-known tribal and folk artists from various Indian traditions. Each rich, textured page is screen-printed by hand and features a different cat. (In the vein of this week’s inadvertent running theme of cats — as a piece of Edison’s marketing genius, a key to the future of computing, and now an ambassador of Indian artisanal culture.)

Alongside the images are simple but clever verses of author Anushka Ravishankar for a light touch of playful poetry.

As if the book itself wasn’t enough of a jewel, each copy comes with a frameable screenprint.

Like other Tara Books gems, I Like Cats comes in several limited-edition runs of 2000 copies, each hand-numbered on the back and featuring a different artwork on the front cover.

Original review here.

UPDATE: I Like Cats is now sold out in the U.S. — the fine folks at Tara have put together an offset version in its stead.

STUCK

Who doesn’t love Oliver Jeffers, illustrator extraordinaire and maker of favorite children’s books? This season, he’s back with another treat: Stuck, an absurdly funny “tale of trying to solve a problem by throwing things at it.”

And as with all of Jeffers’ books, buried in his childlike illustrations and light-hearted storytelling is a deeper metaphor for the blessings and curses of the human condition.

In this lovely trailer, Jeffers reads the book himself:

via Swiss Miss

THE PHANTOM TOLLBOOTH

The Phantom Tollbooth isn’t merely one of the most celebrated children’s books of all time, it’s also one of those rare children’s books with timeless philosophy for grown-ups, its map of The Kingdom of Wisdom a profound metaphor for curiosity and the human condition. This month marks the 50th anniversary of the beloved classic and there’s hardly a better celebration than The Phantom Tollbooth 50th Anniversary Edition — a magnificent volume featuring brief essays from renowned authors, educators, and artists, including Philip Pullman, Suzanne Collins, Jeanne Birdsall, and Mo Willems, alongside the complete original text and illustrations of the book and the now-legendary 35th anniversary essay by Where The Wild Things Are author Maurice Sendak.

Packaged in the classic original art, stamped and debossed on the case with a transparent acetate jacket, the book is an absolute treasure to touch and to hold, exuding in a tactile way the intangible magic that fueled a half-century of heart-warming enchantment.

Here’s a lovely short documentary about the book’s masterminds, author Norton Juster and illustrator Jules Feiffer, reminiscing about the unusual spark of their collaboration and the original creative process behind the work:

Juster’s new picture book, Neville, is also out this year and absolutely delightful.

PEOPLE

From French illustrator Blexbolex — whose poetic meditation on time, impermanence and the seasons you might recall from earlier this month — comes People, a continued exploration of the world building on Seasons. Each charmingly matte and papery double-page spread features a full-bleed illustrated vignette that captures the human condition in its diversity, richness and paradoxes. From mothers and fathers to dancers and warriors to hypnotists and genies, Blexbolex’s signature softly textured, pastel-colored, minimalist illustrations are paired in a way that gives you pause and, over the course of the book, reveals his subtle yet thought-provoking visual moral commentary on the relationships between the characters depicted in each pairing.

People, available in English for the first time, is part Mark Laita’s Created Equal, part Guess Who?: The Many Faces of Noma Bar, part something entirely new and entirely delightful, certain to make you smile, make you think, and make you wish you were a snake charmer.

Original review, with trailer, here.

Images courtesy of Enchanted Lion Books

EVERY THING ON IT

Shel Silverstein is one of the most beloved children’s authors and illustrators of our time, his masterpiece The Giving Tree one of those rare gems of children’s literature with timeless philosophy for grown-ups.

Every Thing On It is a lovely new book of 137 never-before-seen poems and drawings, only the second posthumous anthology published since Silverstein’s passing in 1999. (We originally featured it the day it launched, alongside a rare 1973 animated adaptation of The Giving Tree narrated by Silverstein himself.)

A spider lives inside my head
Who weaves a strange and wondrous web
Of silken threads and silver strings
To catch all sorts of flying things,
Like crumbs of thought and bits of smiles
And specks of dried-up tears,
And dust of dreams that catch and cling
For years and years and years . . .

THE MAGIC OF REALITY

Evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins — who in 1976 famously coined the term “meme” in his seminal, must-read book The Selfish Gene — is nowadays best-known as the world’s most celebrated atheist. This year, Dawkins brought us his first sort-of-children’s book, The Magic of Reality: How We Know What’s Really True — a scientific primer for the world, its magic, and its origin, teaching young readers how to replace creationist mythology with science, and a fine addition to our favorite soft-of-children’s nonfiction.

With beautiful illustrations by graphic artist Dave McKean, Dawkins’ volume is as accessible as it is illuminating, covering a remarkable spectrum of subjects and natural phenomena — from who the very first person was to how earthquakes work to what dark matter is — in a way that infuses reality with the kind of fascination and whimsy we’re used to finding in myth and folklore. Each chapter begins with a famous myth from one of the world’s religions or folklore traditions, which Dawkins proceeds to myth-bust by examining the actual scientific processes and phenomena that these stories try to explain.

Here’s an introduction from Dawkins himself:

BBC has a great short segment, in which Dawkins explores the relationship between comfort and truth, and explains why evolution is the most magical, spellbinding story of all, more poetic than any fable or fairy tale:

BBC has a great short segment, in which Dawkins explores the relationship between comfort and truth, and explains why evolution is the most magical, spellbinding story of all, more poetic than any fable or fairy tale:

When you think about it, here we are, we started off on this planet — this fragment of dust spinning around the sun — and in 4 billion years we gradually changed form bacteria into us. That is a spellbinding story.” ~ Richard Dawkins

The book comes with a companion immersive iPad app.

In an age when we’re still struggling to convince the powers that be of the value of public science and some public schools still perpetuate the mythology of creationism, Dawkins delivers a sober yet wildly absorbing and magical dose of reality in The Magic of Reality — one that brings to mind Jonah Lehrer’s reformulation of the famous Picasso quote: “Every child is a natural scientist. The problem is how to remain a scientist once we grow up.”

Originally reviewed here.

THE BIG POSTER BOOK OF HINDU DEITIES

In 2006, Pixar animator Sanjay Patel self-published The Little Book of Hindu Deities — an impossibly charming illustrated almanac of gods and goddesses, which we revisited earlier this year and it quickly became one of the most popular books on Brain Pickings in 2011. (How’s that for a pick to follow Dawkins?) In August, he followed up with The Big Poster Book of Hindu Deities — not so much a “book” per se as a stunning large-format portfolio of 12 removable full-color posters, each bringing a revered ancient deity into the modern Technicolor world in Sanjay’s signature anime-inspired vibrant graphic style. Equal parts playful, iconic, and irreverently subversive, the prints are less about reinforcing religious ideology — okay, they’re actually not about that at all — than they are about exploring cultural storytelling and tradition from a fresh, unusual angel meant to delight and inspire.

Images courtesy of Sanjay Patel

GOODNIGHT IPAD

Last month, the web watched with equal parts amazement, amusement, and sheer horror as a one-year-old thought a magazine was an iPad. And just last week, while attending the Futures of Entertainment 5 summit for my MIT fellowship, I was unsurprised to learn that a presenter’s toddler cousin walked up to a TV screen and tried to “swipe” it like a giant iPad. So I find myself delighted by the release of Goodnight iPad — “a parody for the next generation” by Ann Droyd (get it?), winking at the long-gone quiet era of the Goodnight Moon classic and “adapting” it for the age of LCD WiFi HD TVs and Facebook.

Whether Goodnight iPad will go the viral way of its conceptual ilk (hey there, Go the F**k to Sleep) and become a hipster darling is yet to be seen, but one thing is certain: at the heart of this irreverent nursery rhyme, still made very much of paper, is a playful reminder for all of us eternal kids that when the moon goes up, it’s not an entirely terrible idea for the power to go down.

HOW THE WORLD WORKS

Christoph Niemann, whose I LEGO N.Y. topped our favorite children’s books last year, is back this year with another gem: That’s How! — an absolutely lovely invitation to explore the inner workings of the world visually, though the pursuit of what we hold as our highest ideal for navigating life: Reckless, indiscriminate curiosity.

Playful, quirky, and irreverent, the book is a cover-to-cover treat for parents, kids, and eternal children of all ages, tickling our fancy as we imagine a whimsical alternate reality behind our worn mundanity.

Originally reviewed here.

WHY WE HAVE DAY AND NIGHT

It’s no secret I’m a big fan of Edward Gorey’s, mid-century illustrator of the macabre, whose work influenced generations of creators, from Nine Inch Nails to Tim Burton. Eleven years after his death, Gorey still manages to charm us with his signature style of darkly delightful illustrations with Why We Have Day and Night. In three dozen beautifully minimalist black-and-white illustrations, with plenty of design-nerd-friendly negative space, Gorey and collaborator Peter F. Neumeyer illuminate young readers on the mystery of why we have darkness and light.

Gorey used this lovely envelope, part of his fascinating illustrated correspondence with Neumeyer, as the basis for the book:

The envelope, alongside 37 others, 75 typewriter-transcribed letters, and more than 60 postcards and illustrations exchanged between the two collaborators-turned-close-friends between September 1968 and October 1969, can be found in Floating Worlds: The Letters of Edward Gorey and Peter F. Neumeyer — not only the second most popular book amongst Brain Pickings readers this year, but also one of my personal all-time favorite tomes.

Images ©The Edward Gorey Charitable Trust, courtesy of Pomegranate

* * *

One of the most wonderful things about great children’s books is how timeless they are — why not catch up on last year’s best?

BP

Brain Pickings Redux 2010

A year’s worth of ideas, inspiration and innovation from culture’s collective brain.

It’s that time again, that very special day on which we turn back on the year whose end we celebrate tonight and take a look at the tastiest tidbits of interestingness that made our radar during the 4,500+ hours we poured into Brain Pickings in 2010. (And if you found any of them marginally interesting, stimulating or smile-inducing, please consider supporting us with a marginal donation — it’s what keeps the cogs a-turnin’ here.)

We kicked off the year with an uncovered gem: Steve Jobs on working with Paul Rand, the iconic designer perhaps as famous for his infamous temper as he was for his legendary work. We wanted to remember 100 places before they disappear.

This hyperkinetic gumbo in space, known as the Antenna Galaxies, may resemble the fate of the Milky Way and the Andromeda Galaxy when they collide in about 2.5 billion years.

Photographer Michael Benson took us on the real Space Odyssey with his magnificent images of the cosmos. MIT’s FaceSense read our minds through a webcam. Google Creative Lab director Ji Lee echoed our belief in the transformative power of personal projects. Alex Lundry showed us how our pre-wired visual bias allows data visualization to steer the public in politics. Michael Deal charted The Beatles.

Kirstin Butler took a close look at The Red Book, the fascinating illuminated-manuscript-meets-personal-journal by iconic Swiss psychologist Carl Jung, then curated 5 fantastic resources for the lifelong learner.

Photographer extraordinaire Andrew Zuckerman captured the wisdom of 50 of the greatest living luminaries over the age of 50. A wonderful art project invited us to live in the moment. Our triad-taxonomy of mythical beasts and modern monsters became our most-read viewed page this year.

In February, BBC’s The Century of the Self took us deep into the roots of consumerism and democracy. 88 Constellations delivered the biography of the Austrian-British philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein in spellbinding interactive storytelling. Matthew Albanese’s miniature condiment landscapes blew us a way.

Tornado made of steel wool, cotton, ground parsley and moss

We looked at 6 ingenious creative derivatives of the London tube map plotting everything from personality types to the Milky Way as a subway system. We found 10 more must-attend cross-disciplinary conferences. We went to the mother of all conferences, TED, and came back with photos and soundbites. We curated six fantastic places to buy affordable art from emerging artists. (And later found five more.)

We explored creationism vs. evolution in a brilliant split-screen animation. We celebrated 5 blog-turned-book success stories, and later added another five. We applauded Kopernik, the new microfunding platform for world-changing design that improves lives in the developing world.

We peered past the Burton hype and saw some wonderful art inspired by Alice In Wonderland. In an original interview, legendary anthropologist Robin Dunbar distilled our psychosocial capacity for Facebook friends. We explored the history of the Rube Goldberg machine as a cinematic technique long before OK Go viral videos.

People loved our omnibus resource of 11 ways to micro-fund your creative project and our three alternatives to the traditional business card. In another uncovered gem from 1960, iconic media theorist Marshall McLuhan explored his notion of “the global village.”

We looked at three excellent examples of infographic storytelling for kids and traced the origins of animation all the way back to the early 1900s.

Elham, 19, and her mother, 55. Rhinoplasty ‘nose job’ operation.
Tehran, Iran.

Photographer Zed Nelson explored the cross-cultural manufacturing of beauty in an arresting series and designers gave mundane notices ingenious makeovers. We explored the past, present and future of magazine publishing. Our omnibus of vintage posters for modern movies became one of our most-shared articles this year.

Artist Steve Powers wrote a graffiti love letter across 50 building facades over 20 blocks. A global art project constructed a hand-illustrated collaborative video for Johnny Cash’s final studio recording. We took some vintage lessons on design and government from the Works Progress Administration. We looked at some remarkable book sculptures.

Natalie Merchant came back from obscurity to blow us away with her musical adaptations of Victorian children’s poetry. We looked at distorted maps as a storytelling device. Two filmmakers set out to make one documentary per month, every month, for a year. The eerie and fascinating Russian Criminal Tattoo Encyclopedia was a big hit with readers.

We looked at subway etiquette from around the world and marveled at incredible artwork made out of money. We saw that, thanks to artsts’ ingenuity, augmented reality can be fully analog.

In may, we celebrated our 500th anniversary with original artwork by the talented Len Kendall. Leonard Bernstein dissected the anatomy of music. The world’s leading data visualization masters pooled together in a stunning new anthology. Nina Katchadourian made wry comedy out of stacked books. In another uncovered gem from 1959, Ayn Rand gave Mike Wallace a piece of her mind on love and business.

We curated 5 iconic children’s books with philosophy for grown-ups. A fascinating documentary explored the state of remix culture and the history of copyright law. Designer Mico Toledo created beautiful typographic art out of famous song lyrics.

We looked at 7 experimental music projects of incredible ingenuity. Spam became art. Marcus Chown shared some insights on what everyday objects tell us about the universe. Designers set out to give every city in the world a (type)face.

Helen Fisher took a fascinating look at your brain on love and one filmmaker wrote an HD love letter to New York. The BBC explored the genius of design and we celebrated the unsung heroes of the information age. We looked at some fantastic vintage Russian animation and marveled at some incredible art made of office supplies.

We launched our very own curated art portal with work from emerging artists. The Museum of Moving Image gave us a fascinating video-essay about the manufacturing of fame and filmmaker Oliver Laric the tensions of sampling and borrowing media in an eye-opening visual essay about the appropriation of images.

An animated adaptation of Mark Twain’s The War Prayer gave us pause about the state of the world today, more than a century after Twain’s poignant reflection on war and morality. These 7 must-read books by TED speakers became one of our most read articles all year and MoMA’s Paola Antonelli echoed our own philosophy on design and innovation in her metaphor of the “curious octopus.”

We were swept away by a spellbinding original soundtrack for Andy Warhol’s little-known silent films and chuckled at some quirky art inspired by Law & Order one-line episode summaries. We loved Robin Moore’s string math portraits and unearthed 5 ½ gems “from” the iconic, delightfully dark German director Warner Herzog, on whose advice one man walked 5,000 kilometers from Madrid to Kiev. We took a journey around the world in 80 diets.

38-year-old Maasai herder, 5 feet 5 inches tall, 103 lbs, typical daily caloric intake: 800 calories. Food staples: Maize meal and milk.
Image copyright Peter Menzel, menzelphoto.com

A poetic short film about art of being alone became our second most-shared article this year. We were excited for an upcoming documentary about happiness and rallied behind a delightful language conservation effort to save the world’s words. We curated 7 must-see episode of the iconic vintage gameshow What’s My Line, featuring luminaries like Salvador Dali, Walt Disney and Eleanor Roosevelt.

We explored post-consumerism with 7 ways to have more by owning less. 100 artists played a collaborative game inspired by 1920s ideology. We looked at what it means to be human from three cross-disciplinary perspectives. The Mona Lisa Curse traced historical tensions between in art and commerce. We bowed before what remarkable creatures bees are and curated 5 fantastic animations about capitalism.

We looked at how famous creators got their start and listened to a 100-year old tree tweet. We agreed that everything is a remix, a reflection of our philosophy of combinatorial creativity. IDEO reimagined the future of books and, later, the music player. Two icons converged in a lovely new collaboration between Maira Kalman and Lemony Snicket.

Steven Johnson explored where good ideas come from and we looked at the Arctic through the eyes of the Vikings. We celebrated the opening up of the iconic Paris Review archives with 10 priceless quotes from cultural luminaries. The BBC pitted God against science and one designer mapped European stereotypes, which became our most-shared article of all time.

Europe According to USA

We found 5 quirky and wonderful cross-disciplinary cookbooks and explored journalism in the age of data with a fantastic free documentary from Stanford. We couldn’t resist the autobiography and sex life of Andy Warhol. Our list of 7 image search tools that will change your life went viral on Twitter.

We wanted these literary action figures and were thrilled to watch the aurora borealis from home. We celebrated the launch of a new data visualization portal and the return of 30 Conversations on Design. We peered into the audio archives of the Kelly Writers House, full of rare talks by iconic authors and listened to some conversations with iconic art director George Lois, charmingly profane and curmudgeonly as ever.

We explored 5 perspectives on procrastination and swooned over a limited-edition of Moleskine celebrating 30 years of Pac-Man. We tried to understand the scale of the universe, then tried to put it in our pocket. 50 people answered one question. We were thrilled to see Charles and Ray Eames’ iconic Powers of Ten adapted in a flipbook and agreed that all creative work is derivative.

We looked at the history of uncommissioned street art and listened to abstract artists try to explain what they do to their parents, to a delightfully amusing effect. We were sad to lose the great Benoît Mandelbrot, father of fractals, and celebrated his contribution to the world. Marian Bantjes’ I Wonder became our favorite typography project of all time.

We helped our friends at Acumen Fund search for the obvious and bowed before TED as they, in a highly usual move, awarded street artist JR the annual $100,000 TEDPrize. Sir Ken Robinson talked, compellingly, about changing education paradigms.

Divergent thinking isn’t the same thing as creativity. I define creativity as the process of having original ideas that have value. Divergent thinking isn’t a synonym but is an essential capacity for creativity. It’s the ability to see lots of possible answers to a question, lots of possible ways to interpret a question, to think laterally, to think not just in linear or convergent ways, to see multiple answers, not one.” ~ Sir Ken Robinson

We dove into cultural nostalgia with 7 poetic short documentaries about dying occupations and applauded a wonderful project helping children heal through contemporary art. Everything Explained Through Flowcharts became readers’ favorite book this year.

We explored the secret stories of words and listened to a composer reimagine Beethoven as jazz. We were blown away by this interactive version of Don Quixote from the Spanish National Library. We looked at some fascinating portraits of the mind from antiquity to modernity and were stunned by Cedric Pollet’s intimate portraits of the world’s trees.

Silk floss tree (Ceiba speciosa), a flowering deciduous tree native to South America’s tropical forests
Image by Cedric Pollet

We explored the psychology of choice from five perspectives and rushed to grab Bill Moggridge’s ambitious new book on media innovation, featuring interviews with some some of today’s most celebrated media thought leaders.

Brené Brown’s talk on wholeheartedness was the best TED talk we watched all year. We discovered The Cassiopeia Project, a fantastic free resource for science education online. BBC’s adaptation of Sherlock Holmes was an instant hit. Bill Bryson’s short illustrated history of nearly everything was one of readers’ favorite books this year.

Chinese Junk
The roster of ingredients includes dried lotus leaves for snails, noodles for the wood floor, physalis lanterns, and the obscure wild green yamakurage for the rope.

We looked at some incredible edible landscapes and marveled at Jonathan Safran Foer’s Tree of Codes, positively the year’s most ambitioius publishing project. Roger Sterling’s fictional Mad Men memoir was, in our book, the year’s most ingenious example of transmedia storytelling. Arts & Letters Daily founder Denis Dutton offered a provocative Darwinian theory of beauty mere months before he passed away.

The alphabet became art. We were fascinated to learn that Facebook has nothing on Voltaire as we watched Stanford scientists visualize Enlightenment-era social networks. The past once again one-upped our present bias in a photographic history of bromance.

Composer Alexandra Pajak made music from the HIV virus and iconic designer Paula Scher eloquently captured our own belief in creativity as a combinatorial force. We were enthralled by Coralie Bickford-Smith’s covers of literary classics. We looked at changing views of the family as a social unit and celebrated the great Mohammad Ali.

Mad Men Illustrated

Mad Men Illustrated was an instant favorite. We watched 88 years of American political divide unfold in a minute and revisited Philippe Halsman’s iconic jump portraits.

We launched a shoppe full of curated design goodies, quirky gifts and favorite books and applauded a new platform allowing causes and nonprofits to crowdfund media space via microdonations from supporters. We immediately loved All Facts Considered from NPR’s charmingly librarianly librarian and bowed before this Englishman who posted himself.

We were thrilled for the launch of HeyKiki, a new platform for crowd-accelerated learning and revisited the do’s and don’ts of photography, which really apply to any creative discipline. We watched our favorite statistical stuntsman synthesize 200 years that changed the world in one minute, using augmented reality and celebrated the first 40 years of NPR.

We visited the MIT Museum and came back with pearls of wisdom on the 5,000 steps to success from Polaroid inventor Edwin Land. We upped our snark game and were spellbound by the year’s most beautiful animation.

We learned how music works and explored 3 ways to visualize Infinite Jest. Actor Rainn Wilson stepped outside his Dwight character to surprise us with some keen insight on overcoming creative blocks. We took an unusual tour of New York City with author Ayun Halliday.

This month, we curated the best albums of 2010, our favorite books in Business, Life & Mind and Art, Design & Photography, the year’s loveliest children’s literature, and the smartest apps that launched in 2010.

We were thrilled that James Burke’s iconic Connections series, a BBC history of innovation, was released online for free. We celebrated Christmas with a fascinating documentary about the history of the holiday and a heart-warming story of humanity amidst war from 1914. We commemorated the 6th anniversary of our favorite author’s death with a trifecta remembrance and took a delightfully dark, beautifully illustrated look at Armageddon.

We asked some of our favorite artists to visualize the 10 most popular Brain Pickings articles of 2010.

We had a fantastic year thanks to your readership and support — a big THANK YOU for that and here’s to an even more inspired, stimulating, curiosity-filled 2011.

Now, just for kicks, why not enter our cultural time machine and revisit the best of Brain Pickings 2009?

BP

The Best Books of 2010: Art, Design & Photography

Analog interactivity, or what flowcharts have to do with the history of street art.

We reviewed a lot of books this year and after curating the best in Business, Life & Mind yesterday, we’re back with our 10 favorites in Art, Design & Photography — a continuation of our end-of-year best-of series. (Earlier this week, we covered the best albums and the most compelling long reads published online this year.)

TREE OF CODES

Without a shadow of a doubt, Jonathan Safran Foer‘s Tree of Codes is the most ambitious book project of the year. So ambitious, in fact, nearly all bookbinders Foer approached deemed it unmakable. But when Belgian publishing house Die Keure eventually approached the problem with a make-it-work mindset, what came out was a brilliant piece of “analog interactive storytelling” — a book created by cutting out chunks of text from Foer’s favorite novel, The Street of Crocodiles by Polish author Bruno Schulz, rearranging the text to form an entirely different story. The die-cut narrative hangs in an aura of negative space for a beautiful blend of sculpture and storytelling, adding a layer of physicality to the reading experience in a way that completely reshapes your relationship with text and the printed page.

We reviewed it in full here, complete with a sneak peek of the pages and remarkable making-of footage.

I WONDER

Marian Bantjes, a remarkably diverse creator, she calls herself a ‘graphic artist’ and is an avid advocate for self-education and self-reinvention. Stefan Sagmeister, a longtime Brain Pickings favorite, calls her “one of the most innovative typographers working today” — with no exaggeration. (So innovative, in fact, that Sean “P. Diddy” Combs felt compelled to shamelessly, blatantly rip her off recently.) Her latest book, I Wonder, is a remarkable journey of visual joy and conceptual fascination, intersecting logic, beauty and quirk in an utterly breathtaking way.

Our full review, alongside stunning spreads from the book and Bantjes’ fantastic TED talk, can be found here.

EVERYTHING EXPLAINED THROUGH FLOWCHARTS

Flowcharts have risen to pop culture notoriety with their delightful intersection of geekery, design and humor. Everything Explained Through Flowcharts by standup comedian and book designer Doogie Horner is the absolute pinnacle of the hipster meme. It goes by the tagline “All of Life’s Mysteries Unraveled” and flowcharts the way to everything from world domination to getting laid to the religion that offers the best afterlife in over 200 illustrations, 40 gargantuan flowcharts and various supporting materials — essays, graphs, annotations — bound to fill your semi-secret inner geek with glee.

Our full review features a sneak peek of the quirky goodness inside, including a flowchart guide to psychoanalyzing Facebook portraits.

ALPHABETS

Our obsession with visual storytelling around the alphabet is selfevident. And nothing fuels that obsession more richly than Alphabets: A Miscellany of Letters — an ambitious exploration of the pervasiveness of letters in everyday life, tracing our visual vocabulary to its roots in Egyptian hieroglyphs, Kanji characters and other ancient alphabets with rich illustrations, beautiful graphic design and typography, found objects, graffiti and more.

X from Pin Ups
From a provocative book shaping letters out of women’s bodies represented by negative space

The full review, complete with beautiful artwork from the book, was one of our most-tweeted articles this year.

DESIGNING MEDIA

Design titan Bill Moggridge has formidable credentials — director of the Smithsonian’s Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum, co-founder of design innovation powerhouse IDEO, and considered a pioneer of interaction design. IN Designing Media, he explores the evolution of mainstream media, both mass and personal, looking closely at the points of friction between old and new media models and the social norms they have sprouted.

From design to civic engagement to the real-time web, Moggridge offers a faceted and layered survey of how our media habits came to be, where they’re going, and what it all means for how we relate to the world and each other — all through 37 fascinating interviews with some of today’s greatest media innovators, including This American Life‘s Ira Glass, Pandora founder Tim Westergren, prominent New York Times design critic Alice Rawsthorn, Twitter founder @Ev, statistical stuntsman Hans Rosling, and Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg. The book comes with a companion DVD, featuring the video interviews and other media content.

Our full review, complete with sample pages, quotes, and a video interview of Ira Glass, can be found here.

TRESSPASS

We have a soft spot for both Taschen books and street art, so it’s no surprise that Trespass: A History Of Uncommissioned Urban Art — the fantastic new book by WoosterCollective founders Marc and Sara Schiller — made us swoon. From Guatemalan guerrilla gardeners to icons like Banksy and Barry McGee, the visually astounding anthology is as much an exhaustive compendium of compelling artwork as it is a modern manifesto for activism, democracy and freedom of speech.

On a related note, Exit Through the Gift Shop, the controversial and critically acclaimed Banksy documentary, is out on DVD this week and we’re giving away 10 copies!

MAD MEN ILLUSTRATED

Two years ago, we featured the wonderful work of NYC-based illustrator, designer and comedian Dyna Moe, whose Mad Men illustrations eventually charmed AMC into launching the popular Mad Men Yourself app, which has since populated countless Twitter streams with Mad-Menified avatars. This fall, Dyna Moe released her dynamite work in Mad Men: The Illustrated World — a truly, truly fantastic book that captures not only everything we love about Mad Men, but also the broader cultural landscape of the era, from fashion and style to office culture to lifehacks like hangover workarounds and secretary etiquette.

Mad Men Illustrated

We reviewed it in full here. (And for a fitting companion, try Sterling’s Gold — Roger Sterling’s priceless fictional memoir.)

THE EXQUISITE BOOK

In the 1920s, a collective of Surrealists invented exquisite corpse, a game-like collaborative creation process wherein each contributor tacks on to a composition either by following a strict rule or by being only shown what the last person has contributed. This year, a collective of Brooklyn-based designers replicated the exquisite corpse idea in The Exquisite Book: 100 Artists Play a Collaborative Game — a brilliant collaborative illustration project, two years in the making, that enlisted 100 of today’s most talented visual artist and designers to co-create a book by building on each other’s work.

Sample this gem of a book with a few wonderful spreads in our full review.

DATA FLOW 2

You didn’t think we’d go without a data visualization book, did you? And nothing hit the sweet spot this year better than Data Flow 2: Visualizing Information in Graphic Design — the brilliant sequel 2008’s now-iconic Data Flow, a compelling anthology of work in all of data visualization as a broad and cross-disciplinary creative medium, from static infographics to dynamic interactive visualizations to physical data sculptures and beyond. The book is equal parts visual indulgence and conceptual intelligence, with artwork from and interviews of the leading creators in this field of increasing cultural relevance, as information continues to proliferate and overwhelm.

Our full review features juicy spreads from the book and an exclusive quote from data viz superstar Aaron Koblin.

BARK

Tree bark may not sound like the most exciting or relatable of subjects but, in fact, it is both. Not only do we come in contact with it constantly in our daily lives, from cinnamon to cork to chewing gum to rubber, but it’s also a hauntingly beautiful, textured piece of living matter that looks like the skin of some magnificent mythical dragon. French photographer Cedric Pollet travels the world to capture this beauty and has documented it in his gorgeous new book, Bark: An Intimate Look at the World’s Trees. The book is as much a stunning visual treat for color and photography lovers alike as it is a visceral manifesto for biodiversity and reforestation, two of today’s most pressing issues in preserving the amazing world we inherited.

Silk floss tree (Ceiba speciosa), a flowering deciduous tree native to South America’s tropical forests
Image by Cedric Pollet

The full review, which features a gallery of stunning images from the book, is one our most-shared articles on Facebook this year.

BP

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